Durango’s sales tax receipts for July came in strong, the second month in a row recording robust numbers.
The tax receipts should provide reassurance to Durango retailers that the 416 Fire in the summer of 2018 did not inflict long-term damage to the region’s tourism, said Tim Walsworth, executive director of Durango’s Business Improvement District.
“As I’ve talked with people who have been around in business for a while, they tell me it took two years to get back to normal after the Missionary Ridge Fire in 2002,” Walsworth said.
Walsworth said he’d prefer to wait and see if August sales tax numbers hold up – providing a full summer’s worth of data – before saying for sure if the area escaped a long-term hit from the 416 Fire.
“Still,” he said, “it is a relief we have two months of good numbers, and that indicates the damage might be contained to one year.”
BID reported July’s sales tax collections were up 26% for the month for the entire city. However, the city increased its sales tax rate in July from 3% to 3.5%, making a comparison to July 2018 numbers tricky.
Walsworth said BID did run an adjustment on the sales-tax receipts for the Central Business District, essentially downtown Durango. The adjustment for the increased sales tax rate still showed July 2019 sales taxes in downtown were up 10.5% compared with July 2018 and 3.8% compared with 2017.
Without running the adjustment for the increased sales tax rate, BID showed July 2019 sales tax receipts were up 29% downtown compared with July 2018.
Walsworth said BID is using 2017 as a better comparison year for 2019 because of the hit sales tax receipts took in summer 2018 from the 416 Fire.
The total sales tax rate increased July 1 in Durango from 7.9% to 8.4%, when including county and state sales taxes.
According to city data, sales tax collections for July 2019 came in at $1,936,944 compared with $1,794,316 in July 2018 and $1,855,912 in July 2017.
Mike Hurst, co-owner of Carver Brewing Co., 1022 Main Ave., said sales tax numbers reflect what he’s seen – the restaurant is slightly ahead of 2017 sales and well ahead of 2018 numbers.
If Carver’s numbers are indicative, strong summer sales should continue. Hurst reported vibrant sales in August and September at the brewpub. He also reported strong early bookings for the holiday season.
“We’re looking strong for Christmas, but you never know. There are things we can’t control. Will we get snow? Will the economy stay strong? You never know,” he said.
He added that while sales may be up in 2019, profit margins have been squeezed since 2016 by passage of Amendment 70, which raises the minimum wage by 90 cents an hour annually until it reaches $12 an hour in Colorado on January 2020.
Claude Steelman, photographer and owner of Wildshots Gallery, 842 Main Ave., said unlike most retailers, he had record sales in 2018 and is on pace to beat that record this year.
Steelman estimated his sales might be more reflective of a strong real estate market than a reflection on the tourism economy.
Despite his strong sales, Steelman said he plans to slow down and move into a smaller studio this November on East Second Avenue, seeing clients by appointment only.
“This turned into a seven-day-a-week thing, and I don’t have time to take pictures or even have a life anymore. I’ll have a small studio, and you can see me by appointment,” he said.
Jessica Haydon, manager at Fired Up Pizzeria, 735 Main Ave., said this year’s strong sales began with a robust ski season and have remained vibrant since.
Like Hurst, she expects strong sales tax collections will continue when August numbers are reported.
She said tourist traffic seemed strong at Fired Up through Labor Day, largely stemming from passengers on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
“As soon as we hear the train whistle, we know we’re going to be crazy busy in 10 minutes,” she said.